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Lockdown of ‘non-essential’ businesses empties Hanoi streets


Foreign tourists face difficulty in finding hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment. 

Starting March 22, the country has suspended entry for all foreign nationals, including those of Vietnamese origin and family members with visa waivers and halted all international flights from March 25. Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners having diplomatic and official passports such as business managers, experts and high-skilled workers will be allowed to enter the country at this time, and all entrants will be quarantined for 14 days.

Of Vietnam’s 179 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 21 have been discharged after treatment. The pandemic has killed more than 30,000 people in 199 countries and territories.



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Lockdown of ‘non-essential’ shops empties Hanoi streets


Foreign tourists face difficulty in finding hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment. 

Starting March 22, the country has suspended entry for all foreign nationals, including those of Vietnamese origin and family members with visa waivers and halted all international flights from March 25. Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners having diplomatic and official passports such as business managers, experts and high-skilled workers will be allowed to enter the country at this time, and all entrants will be quarantined for 14 days.

Of Vietnam’s 179 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 21 have been discharged after treatment. The pandemic has killed more than 30,000 people in 199 countries and territories.



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Kon Tum hidden charm of Central Highlands


Kon Tum Province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands adjoins Quang Nam to the north, Gia Lai to the south, Quang Ngai to the east, while bordering Laos and Cambodia to the west.

I came to Kon Tum after a 50 km journey from Gia Lai Province via the straight and convenient Ho Chi Minh Highway. Arriving in Kon Tum Town, capital of Kon Tum Province, at noon, I contacted an acquaintance for a place to stay despite the many available options.

My first destination was the wooden Kon Tum church, built entirely from shorea roxburghii wood, native to the Indochina region. Its design resembles ethnic Ba Na homes in Kon Tum. The church includes an orphanage as well as small carpentry and weaving workshops run by skilled hands from Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai provinces.

Beside the church stands the bishop’s residence, built in 1935 with a mixed architectural design. The building is currently used as a museum focused on local ethnic culture.

Kon Tum church. Photo by Xu Kien.

Kon Tum church. Photo by Xu Kien.

In the late afternoon, I drove to Kon Klor suspension bridge crossing Dak Bla River to enjoy a sunset resplendid with the far off smoke of kitchen hearths, the occasional buffalo cart and the laughter of kids leaving school.

The following day, I accompanied my friends to Tu Mo Rong District, an area similar to Da Lat, a famous hill town in the Central Highlands, with its many valleys and dirt roads.

After traveling 60 kilometres from Kon Tom Town via 678 Provincial Route, which took us two hours due to the many twists, we were greeted in Tu Ma Rong by the ethnic Xe Dang, village elders contemplating life from their doorsteps.

After Tu Mo Rong, I hit a new milestone on my backpacking journey at Indochina Junction, where Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia adjoin.

As evening drew near, we decided to hurry back to Mang Den Town, heart of Kon Tum. Passing through chilly Mang Den Pass, we arrived half-frozen.

Pine trees line along a road in Mang Den township. Photo by Xu Kien.

Pine trees line along a road in Mang Den Town. Photo by Xu Kien.

People tend to fall in love with Mang Den for its chilly, but sunny weather. Here we snacked at Pa Sy Waterfall before visiting nearby Khanh Lam Pagoda and the Catholic statue of Maria, a well-known pilgrimage site.

We also passed through Kon Bring cultural village, home Mo Nam ethnic people, and had lunch with ethnic homestay owner Lim.

Taking National Route 24 to reach twisting and fog-covered Violac Pass, we first passed by Hieu Village with its quaint ethnic dwellings. The pass itself cuts through dense forests and offers a splendid view of Re River flowing from Kon Tum through Quang Ngai, my hometown, before reaching the East Sea.

Leaving Mang Den, I promised myself I would return to Kon Tum again one day to further explore the Central Highlands magic.

Until next time, I told myself.

Pa Sy Waterfall in Mang Den town.

Pa Sy Waterfall in Mang Den Town. Photo by Xu Kien.

*Notes to assist your journey

Transportation

Coaches: This is the method recommended to foreigners, as well as Vietnamese inexperienced with backpacking motorbike journeys. You can choose many coaches from HCMC to Kon Tum, such as Phong Phu, Phuong Thu, Minh Quoc, etc, all priced around VND300,000 – 400,000 ($13 – 17). If you travel from Hanoi, coaches such as Viet Tan, Thien Trung, or Van Nam cost around VND600,000 ($26).

Motorbike: To adventurous travelers, using a motorbike is recommended, as the routes in Kon Tum are gorgeous. But be aware, most leading to travel destinations are rather dangerous, so please do not ride motorbikes unless confident.

Lodging

Despite there being no homestays in Kon Tum, there is an abundance of hotels, including Konklor, Bac Huong, Hong My, Tay Nguyen, etc. In contrast, Mang Den has a wider variety of options, such as Sum Villa, Doi Thong Hotel, or Lim Lim Homestay of the ethnic Mo Nam.

Food

Dining in Kon Tum offers diversified jungle specialities like snail noodles, roasted pork, fried crickets etc.

Souvenirs

You would be glad to find a wide variety of souvenirs here, including the sweet wine of Mang Den, young bamboo, and pressed banana slices from Ha Trang restaurant in Kon Tum Town.

Clothing

Kon Tum’s weather is mostly hot, but if you decide to visit Mang Den, warm clothing is essential. Be wary that once you arrive in Mang Den, you will feel colder than expected because of mountainous humidity and winds.

Xu Kien at the Indochina Junction. Kon Tum Province shares the borderline with the two Lao provinces of Sekong and Attapeu, and with Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

Xu Kien at the Indochina Junction. Kon Tum Province shares the borderline with the two Lao provinces of Sekong and Attapeu, and with Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Saigon. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.



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HCMC closes all tourist attractions in Covid-19 fight


The city had already closed all bars, karaoke parlors, restaurants, and other entertainment facilities as it joined the country in trying to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed over 27,000 lives globally.

The latest move followed a directive issued by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, ordering all “non-essential” businesses around the country to be closed until April 15 as the country enters what he said was a critical two-week stage in its Covid-19 fight.

Most tourist destinations have worn a deserted look after the Lunar New Year holiday (January 24-29) as a result of the pandemic, then deemed a national epidemic, with some sites reporting a 70 percent fall in the number of visitors, according to the city’s Tourism Department.

The number of foreign arrivals in Ho Chi Minh City last month fell 52 percent to 346,560, while tourism revenues dropped 30 percent year-on-year to VND8.1 trillion ($348 million), the department said.

The Independence Palace in downtown Saigon closes its door to all tourists until April 15. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh. 

The Independence Palace in downtown Saigon closes its door to all tourists until April 15. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh. 

Nguyen Khoa Luan, director of the Anh Viet Company that launched open top, double-decker bus services last January, said the tours stood canceled until further notice.

HCMC received more than 8.6 million foreign visitors last year, up 13 percent from a year ago. It has targeted welcoming 10 million visitors this year, 10 percent more than last year. The city raked in VND150 trillion ($6.4 billion) in tourism revenues last year.

Vietnam welcomed nearly 3.7 million international tourists in the first three months of 2020, down 18.1 percent year-on-year, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).

Most popular tourist spots in Vietnam, including Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam and the ancient town of Hoi An in the central region, have closed their doors to visitors. Other famous islands, including Con DaoCu Lao Cham and Ly Son have temporarily halted tourist operations.

The novel coronavirus has slashed an estimated $7 billion in Vietnam’s tourism revenues for January-February 2020, with the number of hotel guests in this period decreasing year-on-year by 60-70 percent, according to official data.

Vietnam has 174 confirmed Covid-19 cases so far, with most of the active ones being people coming from Europe and the U.S. and others who came into close contact with them. Of these 21 have been discharged from hospitals.



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Vietnam counts Q1 tourism damage inflicted by Covid-19


The country welcomed nearly 3.7 million international tourists in the period, down 18.1 percent year-on-year, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).

Around 2.6 million Asians, who account for nearly 80 percent of total foreign arrivals, visited the country, down 21.1 percent.

The number of Chinese tourists, the biggest feeder market for Vietnamese tourism, was 871,000, down 32 percent from a year ago. Starting February 1, Vietnam suspended all flights to and from China where the Covid-19 pandemic originated.

Around 819,000 South Koreans, the second biggest feeder market, visited Vietnam, down 26 percent. From late February, the Vietnamese government canceled many flights from Vietnam to South Korea and suspended visa-free travel for South Koreans, one of the countries hit hardest by Covid-19 at that time.

The number of Q1 European visitors to Vietnam was 664,000, down 3.1 percent from a year ago.

In March alone, the number of foreign tourists to Vietnam was 449,000, down 63.8 percent from the previous month and 68.1 percent from a year ago.

All popular tourist destinations in the country have been closed since mid-March while bars and most other entertainment facilities around the country were shut down from Saturday until April 15 on the Prime Minister’s orders, with the country entering a critical stage in its Covid-19 fight. 

All restaurants and coffee shops in Hanoi are closed until April 15 to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy. 

All restaurants and coffee shops in Hanoi are closed until April 15 to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy. 

Small and big hotels have shut down, and more than 100 have offered to become paid quarantine zones.

Europe is at now an epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting the government to suspend entry for all foreign nationals starting March 22, including those of Vietnamese origin and family members with visa waivers, and stop all international flights from March 25 in an unprecedented move in the country.

Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners having diplomatic and official passports such as business managers, experts and high-skilled workers will be allowed to enter the country at this time, and all entrants will be quarantined for 14 days.

Vietnam has so far recorded 174 Covid-19 infections and discharged 21 after treatment so far. Many of active cases are Vietnamese nationals retuning from Europe and the U.S. and foreigners coming from the same regions.

The coronavirus pandemic has struck at a time Vietnam was enjoying a tourism boom, with visitor numbers last year growing 16.2 percent year-on-year to a record high of 18 million. The United Nations World Tourism Organization had placed Vietnam seventh among world’s 10 fastest-growing tourist destinations.

Vietnam had targeted welcoming 20.5 million international visitors and 90 million domestic travelers this year, generating VND830 trillion ($35.6 billion) in tourism revenues, according to the national tourism administration.



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Bumper shrimp sauce of life in Thua Thien-Hue


On the other hand, some fisherfolk in Hai Duong Commune of Huong Tra Township opt instead for a manual fishing method, using a smaller-scale snare trap.

Ho Van Cu, a 70-year-old fisherman from Hai Duong Commune, catches shrimp using a 20-meter-long net contraption with a five-meter-long built-in receptacle. The fisherman trudges the water himself to bag the shrimp. After two hours of laboring, Cu and his neighbor collectively reap over a hundred kilograms of fresh bumper shrimp.



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Vietnamese coronavirus survivor recalls novel ordeal


Pursuing his education at Kyungpook National University in South Korea’s Daegu City, the 27-year-old man had struggled to remain at ease since February, when the city became an epidemic epicenter.

He only ventured out to supermarkets to buy food and never left his mask at home. The rest of the time, he stayed home with his sister.

“When my throat got sore, I did not think it was Covid-19, assuming I had contracted the common flu,” he recalled after being discharged from hospital on March 20.

Tung could not believe he was carrying the coronavirus since he rarely had contact with people while staying in Daegu, turning to lozenges to help ease the discomfort.

Tung (R) was discharged from Ninh Binh General Hospital on March 20, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ninh Binh General Hospital.

Tung (R) was discharged from Ninh Binh General Hospital on March 20, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ninh Binh General Hospital.

In the next few days, things got worse.

Though Tung learned more about how Covid-19 had killed thousands in China, he still could not understand how he got infected.

After many phone calls from his parents in Vietnam, he decided to return home without telling them about the symptoms he was experiencing.

“Streets in Daegu were quiet,” he recalled, adding many locals did not wear masks even though the virus was engulfing the city.

Since the outbreak commenced, he has given up on his part-time job at a South Korean BBQ restaurant.

When his plane touched down at Van Don International Airport in northern Quang Ninh Province earlier this month, Tung was placed under quarantine at a military school in northern Ninh Binh Province after having his samples taken and tested.

“I was woken the next evening and taken to a room to supply epidemiological data,” he remembered.

An ambulance took him to the infection department of Ninh Binh General Hospital while the ten other people in his room, including his sister, were moved to another quarantine zone.

A confused Tung subsequently became the nation’s 18th Covid-19 patient.

In South Korea, he had only come in contact with two friends, both testing negative back in Vietnam.

“I am young and healthy and believe I will beat the disease,” he maintained, adding he totally trusted in doctors at the hospital.

On his first day, medical staff applied infusion therapy. After 2-3 days, his throat finally grew better.

“I did not know whether I had transmitted the virus to someone else,” Tung told himself. Luckily, his sister and others who previously shared his room all tested negative.

In the 10 days at hospital, he spent time talking with his parents and friends and checking for news on Daegu. His phone became a tool connecting its owner with the outside world.

“It was lucky I only had a sore throat and no fever, so I was not too tired.”

His first negative results came out one week after he was hospitalized. “I felt at ease and happy because I knew I would be discharged soon.”

Tung eventually left Ninh Binh General Hospital on March 20 after three negative tests. He was taken to Thai Binh General Hospital in his hometown where he would be quarantined for several days.

“I just want to be reunited with my parents,” he said.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Vietnam has gone up to 163. Of the total, 20 have recovered and been discharged, including Tung.



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Viral food: Hanoi restaurant serves coronavirus-shaped burgers


By Anh Minh  &nbspMarch 27, 2020 | 03:58 pm GMT+7
Viral food: Hanoi restaurant serves coronavirus-shaped burgers

Each ‘Coronaburger’ costs VND85,000 ($3.6). Photo courtesy of Pizza Home.

A takeaway eatery in downtown Hanoi has created burgers that mimic the microscopic images of the novel coronavirus.

Hoang Tung, owner of the Pizza Home takeaway shop, said he was following an “eat to overcome fear” philosophy to revive the spirit of the people during the Covid-19 crisis.

“There is a joke that if you are scared of something, you should eat it. So I hope that people will no longer fear the virus after eating the coronavirus-shaped burger. I hope it can help lighten up people during this pandemic period,” he said.

Tung calls his creation the Coronaburger, which has spiky green buns which get their color from katuk (rau ngot) leaves and matcha powder. Tung said he and fellow chefs came up with the recipe after days of experimenting different ingredients.

He sells around 50 Coronaburgers a day at VND85,000 ($3.6) each.

Tung said the orders are a positive sign for his restaurant (191 Ba Trieu Street) at a time of crisis for the food service industry. The crisis has lasted since the Lunar New Year holiday until now.

This is not the first time Tung has come up with a creative twist for his menu. He had turned heads with a red dragon fruit pizza last month. He said that innovation was aimed at helping dragon fruit farmers impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

Pizza with dough made with dragon fruit. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.

A dragon fruit pizza made to support farmers struggling to sell their fruit amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.



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Hanoians taken by surprise as eateries ordered shut


In Co Nhue 1 Ward in Bac Tu Liem District on Thursday morning a waiter rushes to a car parking in front of his coffee shop and waves it away saying the shop is closed. A man in the car, not knowing about the closure order, looks around the deserted street and sees all the shops are closed.

The waiter said the orders to shut all “non-essential” businesses had surprised many customers, and he had to send more than 20 people away since morning that day.

Two days earlier Hanoi had ordered the closure of all business establishments except those selling food, medicine and fuel from March 26 to April 5.

Karaoke parlors, bars, night clubs, and cinemas have all closed. The city is operating 20 percent of its buses but discourages people from using public transportation.

Nguyen Van Thang, owner of that coffee shop in Co Nhue 1 Ward, said he had received a phone call from the local police telling him to close.

“I was surprised, but since we are in a pandemic we have to do it.” In the event, he spent Thursday morning cleaning the coffee shop along with his 12 workers.

He has put up a board outside announcing the closure.

Thang closes the gate and puts a board on March 26, 2020, saying his coffee shop would be closed until April 5. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Thang closes the gate and puts a board on March 26, 2020, saying his coffee shop would be closed until April 5. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

He told his staff: “Go to your hometown if you want to or close your doors and stay inside. Do not wander outside, there is a pandemic.”

On Nghia Tan Street, which is popular for its many street food and snack places, the only one open at lunchtime on Thursday was a tofu seller. All others selling foods like noodles, grilled pork and bread had vanished.

The fiftyish woman said she did not know about the authority’s order and would close her business after selling the last bowls of bean curd for some boys walking by.

Thirty meters away, Khuyen and her husband were donning masks and sitting in front of their noodles restaurant.

“Do you sell noodles today?”, after 15 minutes, a customer came and asked.

“Only for takeaways,” Khuyen responded.

She had no idea about the order of the authority until local police came and told her while she was opening the restaurant in the morning, leaving her no time to prepare.

Khuyen (L) and her husband try to sell as they had prepared the food in the morning of March 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Khuyen (L) and her husband try to sell as they had prepared the food in the morning of March 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Not putting plastic table and stools on the pavement as usual, she tried to wait for takeaway order before taking the leftovers home.

“I bring home and share the food with my relatives,” said Khuyen, who has witnessed a significant decrease in the number of eaters since the coronavirus outbreak hit Vietnam. She has not decided when to re-open the noodles restaurant in the future.

Not too far from that, another vermicelli restaurant had a quick move by selling their food to online customers and encouraging people to opt for takeaways.

“Starting tomorrow, we will solely serve online orders,” said a server.

Since morning that day many shops in Nghia Tan Market had received notices informing them whether or not they were an “essential” business.

“We sell essential supplies, so we are allowed to open,” a butcher told a rice seller sitting next to her.

Not only businesses but also the public was surprised at the closure order by authorities.

Luu Tien Manh, 35, learned about it on March 25 but did not expect it would be that quick for local businesses to follow the order. The next morning he struggled to find breakfast since his usual banh mi place and many other restaurants were closed.

“I had to remain on the empty stomach until lunch,” the man who works for a state-owned firm on Quan Su Street said.

Some of his colleagues tried to find lunch at 10 a.m., but all the restaurants nearby were closed. They eventually resorted to online orders.

Manh said: “Normally we have lunch and drink some tea outside. Now even the tea stall has vanished.” He planned to bring his lunch from home the next day.

In the last two months the novel coronavirus had caused many changes to his daily life: The company’s football team had stopped playing, his colleagues gave up on the gym, which has also shut down due to the recent order from the local authority.

A restaurant closes for two months starting March 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

A restaurant closes for two months starting March 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Two kilometers away from Manh’s office, three young men were having lunch in a 30-meter-square apartment on Phan Huy Chu Street.

The tourism industry workers had become jobless and pooled VND20,000 ($0.85) each daily to cook two meals at home.

Nguyen Tien Duc, 24, said: “We now work as delivery men. I have a friend who is a baker, and we plan to buy his cakes and sell on the Internet.”

Hanoi has the highest number of Covid-19 infections in Vietnam. On March 26 the government banned crowds of more than 20 people, ordering localities to close “non-essential” businesses as the Covid-19 fight escalates.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Vietnam has gone up to 153. Of the total, 20 have recovered and been discharged.



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Celebrities adapt to pandemic life


Singer Don Nguyen (L) sells snacks via his Facebook page, including pork skin, chicken legs, kimchi, durian cakes, etc. The singer said he was not afraid of people making fun of him since all he has done is try to survive until the pandemic is over. Photo courtesy of Don Nguyen.